George Smith shows his appreciation to fans after the Bristol Bears' match against the Sale Sharks at Ashton Gate, Bristol on May 3.  Picture: Harry Trump/Getty Images
George Smith shows his appreciation to fans after the Bristol Bears' match against the Sale Sharks at Ashton Gate, Bristol on May 3. Picture: Harry Trump/Getty Images

Wallabies great George Smith retires from the game at 38

ONE of the great Australian rugby careers is finally over after George Smith's retirement following 20 years of quality service.

Smith's short-term contract with English club Bristol finished over the weekend, leaving the 38-year-old to announce he would end a professional tenure that had encompassed half his life, beginning as a dreadlocked teenager with the Brumbies in 2000.

The first of his 111 Tests followed that year and he became fixture on the openside flank for a decade, rarely dropping his standards and being widely acknowledged as one of his country's finest performers.

"It's been an absolute privilege to play professionally for the past 20 years," he wrote in a statement.

"Rugby has provided and given me so much. The dreams that I had of playing rugby professionally as a young bloke, I'm fortunate to say that I've lived them and experienced so much more during my time."

Smith made special mention of former Brumbies and Wallabies coach Eddie Jones, now England's coach, who he described as his most important rugby mentor.

"I was extremely lucky in my career to have landed myself in Canberra as a young 19-year-old kid, having the luxury of being tutored by the finest peers and coaches in the game at the ACT Brumbies," Smith said.

"Those early years in Canberra shaped a part of my rugby identity and further encouraged my personal ambitions to better myself as a rugby player."

Aside from a one-off appearance against the British and Irish Lions in 2013, the second half of Smith's career was away from the Test arena and notable for how his standards rarely dipped.

He played at seven different clubs in France, England and Japan, along with a two-season stint at the Queensland Reds that finished last year.

The two-time John Eales medallist stunned observers as he went through his paces with Bristol last week.

An English journalist noted that rather than ease off, Smith stayed after training to complete fitness and skills extras.

GEORGE SMITH'S CAREER AT A GLANCE

First game: Warringah Roos, aged 4.

Super Rugby: Brumbies - 142 games (2000-10, 2013). Reds - 22 games (2017-18)

Wallabies: 111 Tests, nine tries

John Eales Medal: 2002 and 2008

-AAP

News Corp Australia

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